A new way to instil safety on board

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 18 September 2017


Safety at sea is something that is talked about and regulated to a great extent and has been so for many years but accidents and incidents still occur with monotonous regularity.

Instilling a safety culture onboard and throughout the company is something that some shipping companies and individuals can do very well and others, despite their best intentions never manage to achieve. Propel, is a Norwegian management consultant specialising in developing and instilling a new approach to safety in shipping companies.

On an international scale, the SOLAS convention is aimed at achieving safety but mainly by regulating equipment and competency. In the mid-1990s, the IMO took shipping safety to a new level with the International Safety Management Code, supposedly making safety a matter for the whole company at all levels from the newest cadet to the Board of Directors.

At least that is the intention but in practice very little has changed and anybody connected with the industry knows that much of the implementation has been left to the ship where officers and crew are expected to jump through hoops to achieve compliance. While lot of money was spent on consultants to devise and implement ISM systems to the point where they were approved and certified, continued improvement of the systems has in many cases stalled.

The human element is often cited as the cause of accidents at sea. In addition, instead of collaboration, an ‘us and them’ culture exists between sea and shore staff and in many ships between officers and crew and between different nationalities and cultures on board which does little to improve safety. Although this is recognised, very little is done to resolve it but Propel’s team believes that the new approach it has developed can change that and will pay dividends.

Propel has a team of 11 partners and consultants most with a background in shipping at some level and experience gained during positions with shipowners, class societies and research institutions. Having analysed accident statistics and reports, the team at Propel determined that the frequency of accidents and incidents could be just as high in organisations with a high level of safety culture as in less well-run organisations.

The data and insight show that there are large differences between companies when it comes to collaboration. Collaboration is strongly correlated with the risk of accidents and business interruptions. Propel´s experience, garnered from a large number of projects, has been used to develop an approach that is proven to work and which it claims can reduce major accident risk by up to 75%.

Benedikte Wentworth, CEO of Propel, told ShipInsight that the reason for this could be due to the way safety systems are run and the reliance on procedures, checklists and actions ordered to rectify non-compliances causes many seafarers and shore staff to ‘switch off’. The rigid manner in which some safety systems work and the toll they take in time and resources means that people put compliance above questioning and initiative. Even when the system requires regular safety meetings, those involved are less likely to criticise or comment and the safety aspect becomes overwhelmed by a culture of covering up failures.

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